Ahh, menopause—the gift that keeps on giving—hot flashes, mood swings and, yes, extra fat, particularly around your midsection. At least you’re in good company: one study showed that all women gained some abdominal fat after menopause. Aging is partly to blame—even men pack on pounds during middle age—but estrogen specifically plays a role in how women’s bodies store and distribute fat. When hormone levels drop post-menopause, for example, two enzymes that make and store fat become more active. Another big issue: women tend to lose 1 to 2% of their muscle mass per year after age 50, which slows metabolism. In fact, women burned 32% less fat after menopause compared to their premenopausal sisters, according to one trial. And sleep problems, which many menopausal women experience, can trigger a domino effect that contributes to weight gain, too.
Happily, there’s a big BUT (pardon the awful pun): even with multiple factors working against you, studies show weight gain isn’t inevitable. Along with watching what you eat, exercise is essential. Do your cardio (walking, swimming) and add weight training to build and maintain calorie-torching muscle mass. Three training sessions a week for 16 weeks increased menopausal women’s resting metabolism and daily burn by 110 calories a day, while a control group burned 70 fewer calories, according to one study.
And, while hormone therapy isn’t used as weight loss treatment, it has been shown to help shed menopause-related belly fat. If you'd rather consider hormone-free menopause solutions, over the counter dietary supplements can alleviate some menopausal symptoms. Be sure to talk with your health care provider if menopausal symptoms are interfering with your quality of life.
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Lovejoy, J.C. et al. “Increased visceral fat and decreased energy expenditure during the menopause transition.” International Journal of Obesity. 2008 Jun; 32(6): 949–958.
Santosa, S. and Jensen, M.D. “Adipocyte fatty acid storage factors enhance subcutaneous fat storage in postmenopausal women.” Diabetes. 2013 Mar;62(3):775-82.
Keller, Karsten and Engelhardt, Martin. “Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss.” Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. 2013 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 346–350.
Papadakis, G. et al. “Menopausal hormone therapy is associated with reduced total and visceral adiposity: The Osteolaus Cohort.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2018 May 1;103(5):1948-1957.
Kapoor, E. et al. “Weight gain in women at midlife: A concise review of the pathophysiology and strategies for management.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2017 October; 92(10): 1552-1558.
Franceschelli Hosterman, J. The truth about menopause and weight gain. Obesity Action Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/the-truth-about-menopause-and-weight-gain/
Mayo Clinic, Women’s Health. (2016, Apr 21) Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058
Faubion, Stephanie. (2018, Jan 23) MenoPause Blog: Midlife weight gain — sound familiar? You’re not alone. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopause-take-time-to-think-about-it/consumers/2018/01/23/midlife-weight-gain-sound-familiar-you-re-not-alone
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